Over 30 countries urge IOC to clarify definition of neutral athletes

  • 2023-02-20
  • LETA/TBT Staff

LONDON - The governments of more than 30 nations, including Latvia, released a letter Monday calling on the IOC to clarify the definition of “neutrality” as it seeks a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international sports and, ultimately, next year's Paris Olympics.

On February 10, sports ministers from 21 European countries, as well as the US, Canada and Japan took part in a meeting at which most participants agreed on a stance rejecting the IOC's idea to let Russian and Belarusian athletes compete at the Olympic Games. Education and Science Minister Anda Caksa (New Unity) represented Latvia at the meeting. 

A letter to the IOC, which was drawn up after the meeting, was signed by representatives of more than 30 countries.

“As long as these fundamental issues and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition,” read the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press in advance of its wider release.

Among those signing the letter were officials from the United States, Britain, France, Canada and Germany. Those five countries brought nearly one-fifth of all athletes to the Tokyo Games in 2021. Other countries — such as Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which had suggested an Olympic boycott was possible if the war continues — also signed onto the letter, which did not go so far as to mention a boycott.

The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a way to allow Russians into the Olympics, citing the opinion of United Nations human rights experts who believe Russians and Belarusians should not face discrimination simply for the passports they hold. The IOC wants competitors from those countries who have not supported the war to be able to compete as neutral athletes, with no symbols of their countries allowed.

Assistant Secretary of State Lee Satterfield signed the letter on behalf of the United States. In a separate statement, she emphasized the need for the IOC to provide clarity on the definition of neutrality.

While acknowledging there was an argument for them to compete as neutral athletes, the government officials noted in the joint letter how closely sports and politics are intertwined in Russia and Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago Friday and Belarus has been Russia's closest ally.

Monday's letter, while calling for clarity from the IOC, said the quickest way for Russia to get back into the international sports scene would be “by ending the war they started.”